Cape Town - The Mpumalanga department of public works, roads and transport says it is hammering out a plan to “re-engineer” Pilgrim’s Rest as both a heritage site and a tourist attraction.
Part of its plan is to engineer a second gold rush by reopening old mines and launching new ones.
Seventeen businesses in the small town were recently issued with notices to vacate their premises by 31 July to make way for new tenants.
However, the businesses successfully applied for an interdict in the North Gauteng High Court to stop the department from evicting them.
The court order also allows for a review of the procurement process which saw politically connected individuals scoring the leases.
While that process is ongoing, the department, which owns the town, is also scratching its head to try and revive the town’s flagging economy.
The department told City Press that businesses in Pilgrim’s Rest owe it R20m in unpaid rent.
Rent is the government’s only source of income in Pilgrim’s Rest, a town which costs about R4m to run and maintain each year. It has already been declared a national monument and was added to the Unesco World Heritage tentative list in 2004.
Tourism is supposed to be the town’s cash cow, but both the government and businesspeople agree it simply doesn’t attract enough visitors to pay the bills.
Many local hopes rest on a gold exploration company called Stonewall Mining. Stonewall is hoping to reopen old mines and open new ones in the Pilgrim’s Rest and Sabie areas to revive mining in the area.
South Africa’s first gold rush happened in Pilgrim’s Rest in 1873 and stopped in the 1950s after major companies relocated. But plenty of gold remains.
Stonewall management says its planned mining operations would require the development of a new town and related infrastructure, as well as a major boost for Pilgrim’s Rest.
Departmental spokesperson David Nkambule said that details of the new Pilgrim’s Rest model would be released once all government structures have approved it.